Andy James gives a listen to the debut album from the latest NME darlings, Howler:
It’s hard not to feel a little sympathy for Howler - the Minneapolis five-piece had barely tuned their guitars before being touted as the future heirs to the indie throne. A salivating NME was all over them like a dog on heat, and from the New York Times to the corners of the blogosphere the praise piled in.
Fast-forward 12 months and an inevitable ‘next big thing’ backlash has already kicked in. The accusation they’re a knock-off Strokes was inevitable - frontman Jordan Gatesmith’s slurred vocals are delivered with trademark Julian Casablancas-style disaffection. Wailing (Making Out) in particular sounds like a hand-me-down salvaged from 2001. Elsewhere, Howler’s sound is slightly scuzzier and more abrasive than the vintage that saw New York’s finest explode onto the scene a decade ago - and there are a handful of other influences at play here too. The surf guitar on Back of Your Neck is more reminiscent of the Pixies, and Too Much Blood has a West Coast stoner feel - not dissimilar to San Francisco’s Girls.
While America Give Up undoubtedly lacks originality, it’s just about saved by a scattering of sharp, infectious singles. Breakthrough hit Told You Once is a brilliant three-minute pop song, and elsewhere they display a knack for pulling a killer hook or two out the bag - not least on Back to the Grave with its simple but irresistibly catchy “ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” chorus.
Is this it? Howler are not totally without promise and, while their debut was never going to live up to the hype, they’ve done enough to avoid the great indie landfill for now.
Review by Andy James.